London, passports, visa and anime

By Michael Gakuran | | Journal | Leave a comment |

Today was the first of what I imagine will be many hectic days sorting out my gap year plans. I received the Action Pack from GAP yesterday and spent most of the day reading over it and gathering together information. This morning I went to Chatham station to buy an all-day travel card around London, having to renew my passport via the premium £89 (!!) one day service, hand it in to apply for my visa and visit several anime/manga/Japanese stores that I’d researched from the Internet beforehand. I met sensei in the rushed queue for cheap off-peak tickets and fortunately for her, brought her up to the front so she got her ticket and didn’t miss the train. (She had an audition in London). Dave arrived shortly afterwards and we all headed off to London (sensei on the faster train ahead of us).

First up was the visit to the UK Passport Service at the Globe House, just behind Victoria Station. Dave was forced to wait outside due to large crowd numbers, where he told me afterwards, the BBC had been there interviewing people about the updated passport laws. Apparently it is now forbidden to smile with a toothy grin (or show any ounce of positive emotion) on your passport photo because the reflection of light from the person’s teeth in the photograph screws up the machine. Wonderful. It’s good to know such great technology is being used. I am grinning away in my most recent photos because my mum was making my laugh as I had them done, but nothing was said at the passport office, so hopefully my photo will stick like that for another 10 years or so, unless they decide to crack down on it or something o.O;.

I got that done after about an hour, so we then went to Piccadilly and browsed in Japan Centre for a while, followed by Waterstones. We spent a long time in Waterstones, mainly because I was trying to look for crafts books and teaching English games to take with me on my GAP year. I only managed to find a book of party games that seemed to come close to what I needed (as all the crafts books were too basic I think). The teaching English book was shockingly expensive at £21.00, so I might see if I can find someone who has it that I can photocopy from (since it’s designed to be photocopied). I also bought ‘The Rough Guide to Japan’ travel guide and ‘People Watching – the Desmond Morris guide to Body Language’. I’ve always had an interest in nonverbal expressions, so it should be good reading on the flight to Japan and while I’m over there ^_^.

From there we went to find the location of the Japanese Embassy, then returned to pick up my passport and went back to the Embassy to get visas. My stuff was accepted in the end, after much fussing around and sifting through all the stuff GAP have ever sent me that I had in my bag with me. Dave was unlucky, because he hadn’t received his Action Pack from GAP and as such was unable to get his visa done today. I may go back to London with him next week if I can while he gets that done.

Now that the main stuff had been sorted, we decided to go hunting around London for some of the little Japanese stores we’ve neglected to visit before. We checked out Gosh! (opposite the British museum), which I had seen when the GCSE Japanese class first went to London. It has a huge range of English manga titles there and it’s kinda quaint and cosy inside. There is a narrow metal spiralling staircase leading to the basement where all the manga is kept. Three of the shop assistants were having very geeky discussions about all sorts of comics and Sci-Fi stuff while we browed, and it was even funnier when we queued up to buy the manga we’d selected as the guy in front of Dave was buying some expensive stuff (over £130.00, if I remember correctly o.O; ) and was having an in-depth discussion about the latest developments in the comics he must read. You can imagine the sort of thing:

Customer: “Did you read; Wonder Woman and the Green Goblin are now allies!”
Cashier: “I know, and what’s more, Batman has got a robotic sidekick! Whatever next?!”
Customer: “They really put some odd surprises in these stories don’t they..?” (etc etc)

Okay. I realise that’s probably verging on offensive to some people who really like Marvel comics, so I apologise for my complete lack of knowledge or creativity in my example, but you get the point. Really weird conversations that I’ve only ever heard in scenes involving Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons :P. I bought ‘Maison Ikkoku’, which I’d heard is supposed to be a good romantic comedy by Rumiko Takahashi (creator of the legendary Ranma ½ series).

We checked out Jessops next (as I’m looking at buying the Olympus c5060 Wide Zoom) so I could see the camera in flesh, or, er, plastic ness… Walked past Forbidden Planet (or lack of, because it’s being relocated to Shaftsbury Avenue) and went to JP Books in the Mitsukoshi Department store. Nothing much there and horribly expensive prices – £38.00 for a Studio Ghibli DVD!! Finally, we went to the second Adanami Shobo in London near Piccadilly. Not quite as nice as the one in Colindale (and no cute Chihuahua named Ho-chan! ;_; ), but I bought one odd manga title that I glimpsed.

Sensei had rang earlier in the day and we’d arranged to meet up for dinner outside Japan Centre, so at 7.00pm we were gathered around one of the tables in the newly refurbished ground floor of the Japan Centre. (Those who have visited before may remember it having all the books and stuff in view as you went in, but it’s effectively a restaurant on that floor now). The meal was really nice, and I remember how much I miss having Japanese food now. Dave and I ordered the miso-ramen with rice, and we also shared some red-bean and green tea ice cream afterwards, which was delicious ^_^.

I felt oddly English again when walking around the Japanese sections of London and had no urge to try and speak Japanese at all, so I’m definitely back into routine now. I know that’ll all change when I go out for my 6-month gap placement on August 31st though, so I’m not worried. Sensei talked to us a little about our gap years over dinner; apparently Hyogo prefecture – close to my placement in the Shiso Cheshire Home – is where Himeji Castle is and close to Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. She also made a bold statement and us promise that we would inform her immediately if we get Japanese girlfriends when we’re out there! I’m a little sceptical about this, not least because most of my time will be spent in a home caring for mentally disabled *adults* o.O;.

I spoke to her a lot more on the train back to Chatham about the Japan trip and various other things about her thoughts on Thailand, China and Japan. She says her reasons for liking England as a better place to live than Japan are basically because of the similarities between British customs and the Japanese customs. She explained that there is a good balance between English assertiveness and modesty. For example (a large generalisation), we are less inclined to be outright blunt and rude when saying ‘no’, preferably to apologise or explain our situation, whereas other times we are quite capable of standing up and asserting our will. This would not be tolerated from a native in Japan, she tells me, and is something she didn’t like while living there. Also, the female insubordination (the female in the housewife scenario and long salary man hours by the husband) are another thing she – and so she says – many Japanese girls are feeling less happy about. Which, incidentally, was one of the reasons she gave for why some Japanese girls seem to prefer Western men more than Japanese now.

Anyway. This has been a very long post with probably a lot of boring detail. Hopefully my Japan journal (due to be posted very soon) will fare better ^_^.

Current music is something Chris sent over msn. Heavy metal. Not bad. Also, please check my journal directly, as I backdated the entry about Chris’s sleepover. Go there *now!* ^_^

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